Cooper's wakeup call rouses playful Blast

Phil Jackman

January 16, 1991|By Phil Jackman

The Blast's Joe Barger cut himself shaving and assistant coach Jim Pollihan rushed what looked like a styptic pencil to his aid . . . only it was chalk. Everyone had a good laugh.

A couple of women were at the locker room door brandishing a birthday cake for Domenic Mobilio and one of them decided to deliver a pre-game pep talk: "Fellas, I want you to go out there and kick some butt tonight."

A thousand little kids from the under-8 Baltimore Football Club scurried around for autographs and stood in awe of their cooperative hosts.

Chris Simon and Angelo Panzetta started to nudge a ball back and forth with their feet in the middle of the room. Soon there were seven players in a circle doing it and pandemonium reigned, especially when Billy Ronson made one of his arbitrary rulings ordering a teammate to the sidelines.

Ronson got his, booting a chair with his bare foot and bolting for his pre-game dip in the whirlpool.

Tim Wittman, 30 minutes after getting out of his street clothes, was already in an athletic supporter and trying to mooch ZTC complimentary tickets.

It had been a disappointing road trip for the Blast with losses in Wichita and Dallas over the weekend and the day had been long already, the wakeup call coming at 6 a.m. in Big D.

Coach Ken Cooper walked in, grabbed the attention of the gang for a minute and diagrammed a counter move to something that had happened to his team the day before. All hands nodded.

Back to the pre-game rituals of teeth-brushing, liniment-rubbing, ankle-taping, newspaper-reading and the usual tension-relieving ragging.

There were just a couple of minutes until the team hit the Arena for warmup and Wittman now had his socks on. It was getting quieter now as Tim started to put his shorts on, left leg first.

Everyone sensed it was time for Cooper's potboiler. Damn the platitudes, full speed ahead:

"I want us to set the tone real early. We've got to win this game big. We need goals. We're way off the target we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year and there's many areas where we have to improve."

He paused for breath. He'd need it because the decibel level in the room shot upward impressively. The words toughened, too:

"Let me tell you what it used to be like around here. We dominated people. Years ago, you couldn't win in San Diego. You couldn't win in Baltimore.

(Starting in 1982 and over the next five seasons, the Blast went 19-5, 20-4, 19-5, 17-7 and 20-6 at home during the regular season. They added 18 wins in 26 playoff starts during the stretch. It was a hellhole for visitors.)

"Get out there and win the first quarter, every tackle and every quarter after that. Dominate. This is our building. Let's go!"

The pep talk must have been effective because Wittman was now completely in uniform, shirt tucked in, as he left the room.

The Blast finished the first half of the season the day before even-steven, 13-13, not good enough. "We have no alternatives but to win," someone had scrawled on the blackboard. Guess who?

"We're right on the edge of stepping up to the next plateau," Cooper said as he slipped into his bench garb. Five times already the team had won games back-to-back, but it couldn't get that third win to signify a real winning streak.

But this is no time for ranting and raving, Cooper decided. "We've got a lot of young guys and we've got to loosen them up," he said. "The older guys, they're loose, we've got to tighten them up, get them more serious."

The game started and the Blast, charged up by the demonstrative Monday night crowd of 5,800, hit the carpet running, pressing and in control. The Eastern Division-leading Kansas City Comets dodged the blitz and the action leveled off.

The Comets scored. Oh-oh. Mobilio's first of three goals squared it 40 seconds later. Mobilio scored unassisted and Wittman converted coming off a nice high post pick set by Dale Mitchell. The final was 9-6, Baltimore.

"We're working at it, we'll be OK," said Cooper. "These guys didn't have to be here until 5 o'clock; they started coming in at 3. They're committed and they're together. They've developed a passion for the game, which is needed, especially the day of a game."

Domenic Mobilio cut into his cake. Joe Barger checked once more to see if plain chalk had been effective in stopping a razor nick. Yessss. It had been a long day and a good day.

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